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The Link Between Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are thought to be caused mainly by immune system problems. Though the conditions are often related, not everyone who has psoriasis develops psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriasis causes patches or plaques of scaly and inflamed skin. Psoriatic arthritis causes joint swelling and pain. It can lead to permanent deformity and damage if not treated.

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If you are one of the 7 million people in the United States who have the skin condition psoriasis, you should know the signs and symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. As many as 40 percent of people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis. We don’t completely understand the causes of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Genetics, the environment, and your immune system are all thought to play roles. Some scientist believe that your immune system attacks your skin when you have psoriasis. When you...

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Here's a closer look at the connections -- and differences -- between psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis

Some of the most common psoriatic arthritis symptoms include:

  • Painful, swollen joints
  • Sausage-like swelling of fingers and toes
  • Pitting or ridging of the nails or nails that peel away from the fingers and toes
  • Fatigue
  • Back and neck pain
  • Stiffness, especially after inactivity or sleeping
  • Iritis (inflammation of part of the eye)
  • Inflammation of tendon and their attachments to bone

How Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Are Connected

About 30% of people who have psoriasis will develop psoriatic arthritis. In most cases, the skin symptoms of psoriasis appear before psoriatic arthritis develops.

But sometimes psoriatic arthritis symptoms appear months, or even years, before skin lesions develop. In this circumstance it is often difficult to make a diagnosis.

Both psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are thought to be related to an immune system malfunction that results in overgrowth of skin cells. Layers of skin build up, resulting in the skin plaques of psoriasis.

If you have psoriatic arthritis, your immune system targets your joints and connective tissue. This leads to:

  • Painful, swollen joints
  • Tendon attachments to bone (enthesopathy)

There's no connection between the location of your scaly skin patches from psoriasis and which joints are affected by psoriatic arthritis. For example, you could have situations like these:

  • Skin lesions on your elbows but NO psoriatic arthritis in the elbow joints
  • Swelling of the toes from psoriatic arthritis but NO redness or scaling on the feet

Psoriasis skin lesions can flare up and then get better. Psoriatic arthritis symptoms may also come and go.

Psoriasis does not cause scarring or any other permanent damage to the skin. But psoriatic arthritis can cause permanent deformity and damage to the joints if not treated. That's why it is very important to work with your doctor even if your psoriatic arthritis symptoms ease. Don't taper your medications without talking to your doctor first.

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